The palm trees were gently swaying and the buffets in the CP Palm Beach Masters’ VIP tent beckoned enticingly; it was a lovely, carefree 80-degree day-- unless you were trying to qualify for Sunday’s Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Wellington.
With only 40 slots open for the four-day show’s featured competition on Sunday, this afternoon’s qualifying class on the gorgeous grass field was a must-do-right. No one knew that better than McLain Ward, who failed to qualify last year and had to watch the big Sunday class from the sidelines.
This time, he left nothing to chance with HH Callas, who has become his go-to horse in the wake of HH Carlos Z’s retirement last year. His 2017 winning Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Finals mount, HH Azur, is reserved for the biggest classes, championships and special occasions.
McLain was among six riders who handled the first-round course at Deeridge Farm without a fault. Before he came back in the jump-off, he was watching from the sidelines again, this time keeping an eye on his student, Adrienne Sternlicht, first to go in the tiebreaker on the high-flying mare Cristalline.
Adrienne notes that while McLain is her mentor, “regardless of the situation, McLain is always going to try to beat me.” This time that didn’t work out. He had a rail, while the other four who returned for the jump-off were clean. (Jessica Springsteen elected to sit it out with RMF Swinny du Parc).
Asked what advice McLain gave her, Adrienne said, “What I’m most focused on now is working on the smoothness of my jump-off. Last week, I was quite quick but not very smooth or tidy, so I tried to think about those two things today.”
Lauren Tisbo, riding in the jockey’s exercise saddle she prefers for Coriandolo di Ribano (she says it’s easier on his back and he doesn’t buck the way he used to) nipped Adrienne’s 34.51-second clocking with a time of 34.43. But the last to go, British 2012 Olympic team gold medalist Ben Maher, put them in the shade with a time of 33.71 seconds on Jane Clark’s 15-year-old stallion, Tic Tac.
Ben, who has been through a self-described lean time over the last year that kept him out of the winner’s circle, was on the mark today.
“Sometimes jump-offs just go right. Tic Tac’s naturally a fast horse,” he pointed out.
“Tic Tac kind of goes his own style. It’s come to the time now where we need to protect him a little bit and keep him fresh in the right arenas.”
He praised the Jacobs family, who put on the Masters at their 300-acre farm, a short hop from the Winter Equestrian Festival that once was the only show in town.
Ben said the Jacobs are “doing a great job to help the sport. This in my opinion is a breath of fresh air.”
He’s showing the stallion “sparingly,” and has no plans to point Tic Tac for April’s Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in Paris or this fall’s FEI World Equestrian Games. He’s focusing on a younger horse for the latter.
Adrienne balances her riding with her work for the Robin Hood Foundation, “the biggest poverty-fighting charity in New York City.”
The 24-year-old Brown University graduate feels a moral obligation to serve others.
“Sometimes, I felt that my riding is solely for me, so I love that I can give back in my own way,” she said, noting that involvement with the non-profit is “a really nice balance for me.”
Adrienne is completing yoga teacher training, but told her friends, “I promise I won’t go off on some weird voodoo tangent. I had to take myself out of my social environment and I’m committed to being the best I can be and let go of my attachment to my results.”
She added, “There is no longevity for me in this sport in just riding. I’m too intense. By finding this balance, I have Olympic dreams, championship dreams; I hope to get there but I want to do something else along the way.”
To hear Adrienne talk more about her journey, click on this link.
Results are available at http://www.longinestiming.com/#!/equestrian/2018/1444/html/en/longinestiming/resultlist_101.html